The Great Indian EV Battery dilemma!

Many people when starting-up their EV dream usually start with “advanced” Li-Ion batteries in mind. Then after making the vehicle find that the product is turning out expensive especially when compared with its use and benefits. For eg. a 2 to 3 lakh motorcycle/scooter for your office journey is very expensive when you can get a CNG-Nano car at the same price and ride much, much safer and comfortably in Air condition interior, listening to your favourite songs/FM and make calls… all this at almost the same fuel price of an EV (battery+charging cost).

Making a Rs 300,000 e-scooter/motorcycle is… not BREAKTHROUGH technology but making a Rs 30,000 e-scooter with a range of 140km locally is breakthrough technology!!!

Many western technology blogs and websites do not recommend using anything other than Li-Ion battery for Evs. This would have been true if the Exchange Rate of Indian Rupee was 1US$= 3 or 4 or even 10 Indian Rupees. But our Rupee has been shrinking in value steadily since independence from 1US$=1Indian Rupee to 1US $ = 66 (Sept-2016).

This was due to our Government’s constant love for dollar loans of World Bank, open door for Foreign Investment, steady destruction of our biggest industry and backbone (agricultural industry) and import of foreign oil & Chinese machinery.

All our Indian Governments from independence wanted was limited NRI money and strict control over it but unlimited FDI….why? The reason for that will always be a mystery!!! NRI’s do not even get the same terms and venues for investments as people who are working in India as if going abroad was some kind of a Sin!

Comming back to the story…Even the most EV friendly Government in India even after 3yrs has not placed ANY order for Electric Buses or Trucks!!! Only after 3yrs of total confusion was it possible to allow E-Rickshaws. Local houses and buildings with solar panel rooftops are still to see the light of the day. But sometimes the Govt talks about manufacturing Li-Ion batteries in India which is kind-of hopeful.

Just like Li-Ion batteries have advantages and disadvantages Lead Acid batteries do have their own advantages and disadvantages. Two of the biggest drawback of Li-Ion batteries are its PRICE and then its tendency to explode…. Anybody heard of Boeing 787 Dreamliner & Samsung Note 7 explosions? Cell phones exploding while recharging stories? These are all MAJOR problems faced by the leading technology companies and not by startups.

But other than that the biggest problem with li-ion is that it SEVERELY LIMITS your EV options and it is not backward compatible. Meaning you cannot build a Li-ion vehicle and expect it to work with LA Batteries. But you CAN build a LA vehicle and not only expect it to work with Li-Ion batteries but also better the performance.

For one there is no Petrol/Diesel car in the world that starts with a Li-Ion battery. Till date it is a very unpractical technology for automobiles. It is also the biggest reason that EV is not outselling Petrol cars. Li-Ion properties look excellent on paper and it is most effective in small quantities like in cameras, mobiles & laptops.

Many times people underestimate the advantages of Lead Acid Batteries. The biggest advantage is its price you can get one with warranty for Rs 10,000. The second biggest advantage is that it is easily and widely available. Third advantage is that it is extremely safe to use and is used in all fuel vehicles to help start it. Another advantage is the seller buys back the battery for a small sum. LA batteries is the most recycled batteries in the world.

The Biggest ADVANTAGE of the LA battery is its ability to access a world untouched by the Motor Vehicles Laws of any country.

It takes you to a land where you can explore and drive ANY vehicle built by you on the Road unlike the vehicles built with Li-Ion battery which are of higher speed (low speed vehicles with Li-Ion batteries are just outright silly).

The Great Indian Battery Solution-Flowchart

The Great Indian Battery Solution-Flowchart

Please note some of the companies in India like Hero Motorcorp even after ARAI approval are developing slow speed vehicle with Lead Acid (LA) batteries although they are developing faster scooters with Li-Ion batteries they do not want to abandon the LA Battery scooter! These are companies that can afford to import Li-Ion batteries in bulk purchases! Is it just lethargy on their part or economics?

Which Vehicle to make dilemma? Cycle? Scooter? Motorcycle?

Cycle? If you choose cycle as your project for building EV then its like you have taken upon yourself the task to become a carpenter who uses no tools. Not that it is impossible but the task would become that much difficult. There are more advantages to build the e-scooter or the e-motorcycle than the e-cycle. The cost of the 3 would be almost identical except that the cycle as a structure has its own limitations.

Character of a Cycle: The cycle by character is intended to be the cheapest mode of transport… one which wouldn’t require ANY fuel. Adding battery… then motor… then controller… then navigation unit and then requiring the time and expense to charge the battery EVER SINGLE DAY crosses the limits of the very spirit of low cost and the most economical mode of transport… What was once a cheap and easy mode of transport has been turned into an luxurious and expensive equipment of pleasure ride.

Customer?: Your potential customer cannot be the random person cycling out there. He is not going to use the expensive e-bike for running errands or take it to office or even park it on the road near the railway/metro station. Most of the e-bike rider might take the vehicle out for a spin as a joy ride early in the morning or late in the day. Then he might most probably carry the bike home because the bike has too much accessories which kids or people might damage if left around even under his building or society.

This leaves the maker of such a cycle wondering whom to target as a potential customer. Not every cyclist would want it although everybody would love to ride it once or twice. Maybe he can take online orders and deliver the bike via some courier and the customer will have to assemble it himself with the help of some instruction cd or video link on the website.

If you were in Amsterdam then cycles would be the way to go… also if you were in Oslo, Milan, Dublin, Paris, Madrid, Brussels! This is because these places are developing a hatred for Oil. These places are planning to ban petrol vehicles completely by 2025 (within the next 9 years). They have prepared themselves for it in great detail that by now entire Europe has well planned cycle tracks.

If you were in US the scope of Cycle Vs Scooter Vs Motorcycle would have been pretty low because the vehicle of choice for development would have been Electric Car especially because of good charging infrastructure, Government support and also how they set up complex rules to minimize the entry of competing Asian vehicles.

Beta… but if you are in India where there is no charging infrastructure (will need bigger battery packs typically between 100-140kms range for a professional scooter cause there is a chance you might not be able to connect to charger daily). And with a falling exchange rate the cost of Li-Ion battery in India gets multiplied 67 times!!! The 140km range battery for the bike alone will cost Rs 100,000 and this will make the bike cost around 180,000 to 200,000. Compared to this a Lead Acid battery with 140km range on a bike will cost only Rs 20,000!

Expensive?: This makes Li-Ion batteries in India beyond any question… EXPENSIVE… unless Li-Ion battery is manufactured in India. This exchange rate factor is not understood by many especially those in Western Countries and least of all by people in India who have never used foreign exchange to remit money home. This exchange rate factor CAN ONLY BE understood only by Indians who live and work outside India.

Lets try to explain it in a simple way… Mc Donald’s food can be considered one of the cheapest food outside India. Eating Mc Donald’s everyday is like eating Vada Pav daily in India… no big deal. Or most fast food cost as much as McD. In some places it is also considered the cheapest fastfood. It is also possible for the smallest of laborers/office staff to eat 3 times a day… 365 days from Mc Donalds. Try to understand this aspect… try applying this in India. In India such small wages people cannot eat every day 3 times  a day and 365 days a year from Mc Donalds.

It is exactly the same in Li-Ion Vs Lead Acid battery case the price difference kills the better technology. Its sad to see many Indian EV makers chase this dream because people in west think it is cheap…. And there are tons of articles written in its favor…Wait… they  too consider Li-Ion “slightly” expensive.

This is the very reason that there are a million Lead Acid e-rickshaws in India especially in the north of India and hundreds of millions of Lead Acid battery based inverters all across India. Li-Ion has never breached both these areas and possibly not for the next decade.

Manufacturing the battery might happen in India in the near future. Brighter still is the prospect that a new cheaper alternative will be invented. Lots of work is going on in this sector… there is nothing to worry about… the work for the batteries just started in the last 5 yrs with the advent of touchscreen mobile phones. There is a distinct possibility that prices of li-ion or new batteries will lower to the levels of Lead Acid prices by 2025.

Unless you can get a 70km Li-Ion battery pack for the 2 wheeler priced below Rs 10,000 STICK TO LEAD ACID BATTERY (in India) if you are a Startup!!!

EV makers must understand… battery is secondary… the vehicle design and looks ALWAYS comes first. It doesnt take much work to arrange 7 to 15kgs of LA battery here and there. In India there is almost no work going on… in making tough, mean looking machines… with wider, fatter tires and rims.

The look and feel of the bike has to be very different and appealing. Any person looking at the bike must be blown away and consumed by the desire to own it. Just like the iPhones, iPads, Macs & ipods… KTM Duke is one such bike, Bajaj Pulsar, Harley Davidson and Enfield Bullet are other such examples. What we now need is such an Indian vehicle.

Battery will keep changing as per technology (almost every decade) and it can be easily incorporated. But many times there are engineering students who have decided “they will make bike based on the advanced Li-Ion” and they do not have any idea about the size of the wheel or motor. It has to be the other way around. The bike and its looks and design are paramount.

First comes the vehicle in looks and design… then redesign it incorporating the battery. Actually there is no big secret about the battery. A 70km range Li-Ion battery cost around Rs 10,000 and weighs 7 to 15 Kgs. The motor and controller costs another 10-15,000!

Our transport minister Nitin Gadkari had promised to make Li-Ion batteries in India. Similarly he had also promised to transform every Govt transport to Electric last year and announced pilot project with a few buses. This has been attempted many times in the last 15 yrs. So expecting something new will be like expecting 3 months of heavy rain in Rajasthan. Now less than 2 yrs remain for him to implement this. Today there is better chance of 3 months of heavy rain in Rajasthan (the desert of India) than for changing all govt transport buses to Electric.

Hub Vs Chain-drive

Hub Vs Chain-drive… Just like a hub-motor driven vehicle this guy would have a tough time climbing up a flyover….dont think he would make it to the top at all… lol. Same would be the situation with a cycle/scooter/motorcycle with a hub-motor.

Advantages of a chain drive:

1. Climbs steep hills MUCH better than a hub motor.

2. Places the weight of the motor low and centralized in the frame (instead of a heavy hub in the rear wheel) which means a better balanced feel. One can have 3 choices where to place the motor: up and below the seat, in the middle near the pedal and even in the rear behind the wheel depending upon the design and weight balance required.

3. The motor can use the bikes gears if you want, so the RPMs stay up in it’s efficient range = More range per battery-Ah.

4. Keeping the motor in it’s best RPM range means lower peak-amps drawn from the battery.

5. Giving the motor some gears to use, also means you can get a broader range of performance from a smaller and lighter motor.

6. No more broken spokes from hitting a pothole with a heavy hub motor in the wheel.

Once we are settled about the e-cycle we come to the e-Scooter or e-Motorcycle question?

This has been covered in great detail in the link below:


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